My old friend Jonathan Kay was unable to resist some snide and bitchy Tweeting when CRTV dumped me two months ago, so I can't deny the malicious old queen in me would quite enjoy reciprocating now that he's out as editor of Canada's allegedly prestigious magazine The Walrus. But, alas, my better angels are with Sheila Gunn Reid on this one:
While I should be enjoying the left eating themselves, I think every time the shutuppery bullies win is a bad thing.
Agreed. And the shutuppery is accelerating: It's just claimed its second Canadian magazine editor in a week - over "cultural appropriation", which like everything else these days started off as some obscure fetish only plonking humorless fringe Marxists cared about and then suddenly, in nothing flat, reared up like the shark in Jaws and started chewing up everyone on the beach. The Great Australian Wag Tim Blair explains what happened:
Earlier this month... the imaginatively-titled journal Write [published by the Writers' Union of Canada] presented an extremely helpful guide to our future under politically-correct rule.
The trouble began when Hal Niedzviecki, editor of [Write, the magazine, wrote a mild and cogently-argued opinion piece. In it, Niedzviecki revealed his personal concerns about the red-hot PC issue of cultural appropriation.
Basically, Niedzviecki cares very little for it.
"In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities," he wrote.
"I'd go so far as to say there should even be an award for doing so – the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren't even remotely like her or him."
But as they advise in the Creative Writing courses: Write what you know - or else. Mr Niedzviecki's fellow Writers' Union of Canada official unionized writers didn't care for the cut of his appropriative jib. Alicia Elliott, a graduate of York University's Creative Writing program and former winner of Enbridge's Aboriginal Writing Challenge, said she was "literally shaking" after reading his piece. The last time I was "literally shaking" was when I overdid it in the gas-sniffing round of the Aboriginal Cultural Appropriation Awards ...whoops, you can't say that, can you?
So, as Tim Blair puts it, Hal Niedzviecki found himself "culturally appropriated right out of a job".
Then Jonathan Kay wrote a column suggesting that perhaps we need to kinda sorta have a debate on cultural appropriation before it all gets out of hand - and he too found himself culturally appropriated right out of a job. When an extremist hatemonger like Kay calls for a debate, all reasonable moderate people should call for him to be fired, and destroyed, and hounded from public life.
These aren't oil-patch newsletters or cookery magazines that find themselves sideswiped after carelessly dabbling in an issue that's of no particular relevance to them and decide to cut their losses before it leads to advertiser boycotts and falling stock prices. Both magazines pride themselves in being dedicated to the craft of writing and were addressing the central question of what it is a writer is free to write about. To me the only answer to that is: Everything. To Messrs Kay and Niedzviecki's bosses the answer is something far more mean and shriveled.
As the bestselling novelist Lionel Shriver put it when I interviewed her on this subject a couple of months back:
I have so little time for the concept of cultural appropriation, meaning that, as it applies to my occupation, you don't have the right to assume that you know what it's like to be someone other than yourself. Which is what fiction writers do.
Exactly so. As I said to Lionel:
Rudyard Kipling can write Indian and English characters, and Salman Rushdie can write Indian and English characters, and may the best man win.
But even to have to point that out is a defeat: As we agreed, the minute you have to state something so butt-numbingly obvious as that Shakespeare wasn't a Prince of Denmark or a Moor of Venice, you've lost. We've all lost. We're in a mad world, where it seems entirely normal for literary magazines to rule on what fictional characters a novelist is permitted to conceive.
Unlike the two Canadian editors, Lionel Shriver didn't go the perhaps-we-ought-to-have-a-debate route. She decided to throw the whole cultural-appropriation thing back in the appropriators' faces and appeared on stage wearing a sombrero. Naturally the organizers of the so-called "literary festival" stampeded to dissociate themselves, and most of the literary bigfeet could muster no more than tepid and equivocal support. Lionel is nobody's idea of a right-wing loon, but she recognizes, in a way that Kay and Niedzviecki did not, that you can't tiptoe up to this issue and meet the Appropriation mutaween halfway. "Screw off, you totalitarian tossers" is, in fact, the only reasonable response:
As I said, Lionel is nobody's idea of a hardcore right-winger like yours truly, but she's discovering that, when you need 'em, the respectable writers like, say, Francine Prose are never quite there for you. Jonathan Kay is likewise no right-winger, certainly not compared to his splendid mum Barbara. If memory serves, Jonathan has introduced me on stage in Toronto on two occasions, for both of which he volunteered his services. But more recently he has been on a bit of a political odyssey - to the point where he helped Justin Trudeau "write" his memoir. (It's not cultural appropriation if a francophone Liberal, or presumably a Pushtun warlord or a Bhutanese yakherd, pays an anonymous ghost-writer to pretend to be him.)
Over here on the far right, I'm always happy to have people meet me halfway. Indeed, at the moment, on everything that matters - trade, war, health care - there's very little agreement over anything on the American right. But on the left it's different. Increasingly, their view is that the great questions have been settled, there's only one correct answer, and you have to get all of them right - because an 80 per cent ally is, to the new mutaween, a 20 per cent enemy, as Niedzviecki and Kay have discovered.
As it happens, there's one almighty cultural appropriation going on right now. Indeed, it's a heist. The United Kingdom has become the acid-attack capital of the world. Female genital mutilation is practiced in "medical" clinics from Michigan to Melbourne. The taharrush has spread to Cologne and other Central European cities. Ritual beheading has come to French Catholic churches and upstate New York. And if you protest, "Look, I totally deplore all this cultural appropriation. I think it's outrageous that Britain and America and Australia and Europe are culturally appropriating acid attacks and FGM and beheading and honor killings", you're told, "No, no. That's diversity. It's vibrant. What's not to enjoy? It's a beautiful mélange - just like this new Homeland Security proposal to ban laptops from cabin baggage on translatlantic flights, because a western cultural artifact is being appropriated and weaponized in the cause of eastern jihadism. What a rich cultural co-mingling..."
Jonathan Kay thinks I'm a bit boorish and vulgar when I go on about such things. So I was hoping someone would maybe write a novel or make a film about it.
But that novel can never be written - because, under Writers' Union of Canada logic, only a Muslim could write it. Because in a vibrant diverse world, the one place that can't be diverse and vibrant is a work of art.
There's no internal consistency, no logic, no philosophical principle here. Only - as two Canadian editors learned last week - the brute power of a totalitarian left ever more inimical to the only diversity that matters: diversity of thought, diversity of expression.
Those who wish to reduce art to identity-group propaganda are deadly serious, and we could use a few more Lionel Shrivers. It's time we all donned sombreros and saddled up our donkeys to head these guys off at the pass.
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